After being spotted at a football game with George W Bush, some Twitter users criticised DeGeneres for being friends with the former president. But, as the comedian stressed, having relationships with people who don’t share your views matters.
“WTF is this Ellen?” one user wrote. “Ellen DeGeneres is just another rich celebrity, she doesn’t care that George Bush [has incited] homophobia,” another added. “Seeing Ellen DeGeneres and George Bush hanging out, I can’t help but remember just how long and fervently his administration tried to keep Ellen from marrying her wife,” wrote another.
Their point was clear – under Bush’s presidency, gay marriage was not only not a priority, but when the then-president ran for re-election in 2004 he did so on the platform of wheeling back constitutional amendments legalising marriage equality. His was not an administration that advocated for the rights of America’s LGBTQ community, of which DeGeneres is one of the most visible and vocal members.
What, then, was DeGeneres doing laughing alongside this person, these Twitter users wrote?
Speaking on her television show today, DeGeneres addressed the backlash by reminding her audience that it does everyone a disservice when we stay inside our, at times, restrictive social bubbles.
“People were upset,” DeGeneres said. “They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president?”
She continued: “Here’s the thing. I’m friends with George Bush. In fact I’m friends with a lot of people who don’t share the same beliefs that I have. We’re all different, and I think we’ve forgotten that that’s OK that we’re all different. For instance, I wish people wouldn’t wear fur. I don’t like it, but I’m friends with people who wear fur. And I’m friends with people who are furry, as a matter of fact. I have friends who should tweeze more.”
“But just because I don’t agree with someone on everything doesn’t mean that I’m not going to be friends with them,” she added. “When I say, ‘be kind to one another’, I don’t only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone.”
Jameela Jamil initially praised Degeneres’ response, tweeting: “I think this was an incredibly strong way to handle this. Really interesting.” In a separate tweet, Jamil added: “I’m simply stating that I’ve never seen someone in the public eye handle something like this, in this way. And use it to make what is actually an incredibly necessary point in our society. It was just very strong and interesting. We explore in this season four of The Good Place.”
Later, though, Jamil deleted her first tweets and amended her response after some of her followers shared comments about Bush’s presidency and political stance with the actor.
“Ooooof learning today about the full extent of Bush’s heinous presidency,” Jamil tweeted. “We weren’t taught much about him at school, we just heard he was stupid…(we were dealing with our own epic nightmare of a prime minister back then). What a monstrous leader. I now understand the rage..”
DeGeneres isn’t the only celebrity whose friendship with Bush has caused controversy. Michelle Obama also has a close relationship with the former president, something that has both delighted and exasperated fans in the past.
For Obama, her friendship with Bush – whose administration was the direct predecessor to her husband’s – is a sign of the power of human connection.